Satellite operator SES says that in the early hours of July 1st it re-established contact with its AMC-9 satellite, which suffered a “significant anomaly” on June 19th.
SES and the craft’s manufacturer are working around the clock to evaluate the satellite’s status and define what step must be taken.
SES also confirms tracking information received on June 29th which had suggested that at least two separate objects were located in the vicinity of AMC-9. “Their source has still to be determined. The new piece of information was included by Thales and SES in their investigations,” said the SES statement.
“All relevant operators and agencies are being kept informed and will receive regular updates from SES. The current assessment is that there is no risk of a collision with other active satellites. AMC-9 and its status continue being tracked by SES and agencies, including the Joint Space Operations Centre (JSpOC) and ExoAnalytic, a private firm and tracking service provider,” added SES.
“Since the incident on June 17th, AMC-9 has been slowly moving westwards with its payload disabled and not causing interference. A majority of traffic has been transferred to other SES satellites and SES is working on a long-term plan to minimize disruption to customers.”
ExoAnalytic Solutions says it has observed the satellite, using powerful ground-based telescopes.
Various theories – not supplied by SES – have been mooted, that the satellite is slowly spinning having been impacted by a micro-meteorite, or that perhaps an on-board battery or pressure vessel exploded and caused the problem. ExoAnalytic, which has not suggested a cause of the problem, focuses its business on tracking satellites and other large metallic debris objects in orbit and one of its key clients is the US Air Force.
Certainly, a video shot by ExoAnalytic on Friday night indicates the satellite is pulsing with light – suggesting its spinning status – as well as at least one object becoming detached from the body of the craft. This could be one of the satellite’s solar panels.
AMC-9 was launched in 2003. SES says that its clients have been moved to alternate satellites. SES had described whatever happened to AMC-9 as a “significant anomaly” and subsequent reports suggested that some type of energetic event had affected the satellite, which for ten days or more has been drifting safely at about 0.16 degrees per day.
The next steps, whatever the status of the satellite, are complex. If there is constant or even periodic communication with the satellite, then the prospects for sending it into a so-called ‘graveyard’ orbit some 300 kms above the important geostationary orbits occupied by dozens of communications satellites. However, few now think that the satellite can be rescued.